Missoula Fly Fishing Report

Missoula Fly Fishing Report 8/6

Fly Fishing Report Brought To You By Our Missoula Fly Fishing Guides And Fly Shop Staff.

Enjoy and Good Luck!

Bitterroot River

The cooler temps forecast will change how the Bitterroot is fishing. The clockwork pre-dawn/dawn fishing will begin a bit later with cooler water and air temps. The waning PMD’s and tricos will also hatch later in the day, and the morning hopper fishing may be delayed to early afternoon.

Please note- Hoot Owl hours are still in effect until FWP lifts them. Specific parameters must be met before restrictions can be removed, so even if the weather and water are cooler, Hoot Owl hours are in place. So until FWP makes the call, no fishing after 2:00 PM.

These cooler days don’t often come in august, but when they do, fishing can be spectacular with the cooler water temps and cloud cover. Dry fly fishing might take a little longer to get going in the morning, especially on the upper stretches.

Start looking for Crane Flies on the ‘Root. They’ve been seen, but the cooler weather will extend their activity, so if you run into an unfamiliar hatch, the culprit may be the cranefly. The Dry Crane is working on the surface, while the Silverman Cranefly Larva and Smethurst Crane Bomb are working sub-surface. While not prolific, trout look for craneflies because they’re a big meal.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips for each hatch

Blackfoot River

The change in weather is going to change fishing on the Blackfoot in a big way. Not only will there be less need to be on the water super early, the evening hatches are going to become fishable. With extreme heat, the evening hatches are pushed back to dusk and later. With cooler temps, the caddis and the few remaining PED’s will start much earlier, giving the angler a chance to actually fish them.

The fish won’t be forced into the riffles for oxygen during the day, so working the slower water later in the day will be more effective in the next week. The clouds will get the fish rising more freely.

The hoppers will start later in the day, and the clouds will help bring the trout to the surface with more regularity. We’ll still have an afternoon lull, which is normal, but the lull will be shorter and less intense. Look for the Blackfoot to fish well all day for the next few days, so take advantage.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Clark Fork River

The cooler temps and cloudy weather will do nothing but help how the Clark Fork is fishing. The fishing will begin later in the morning, so no need to be on the water before first light unless you’re chasing the big browns that move into the shallows to feed at night. If you’re targeting those fish, use a mouse or a larger neutrally buoyant streamer like a Dungeon or an Articulated Fathead. 15 pound test is not overkill for these fish.

Please note: Hoot Owl hours are still in effect on the Clark Fork. Until the temperature parameters are met, and FWP lifts the restrictions, there is no fishing after 2:00 PM, no matter what the water and air temperatures are.

The waning PMD’s and tricos are going to start later in the day than they have in the last 2 weeks. Expect more action on the surface with the cloud cover. The hoppers won’t move as early in the day as they have been, but they will be out, and there are more every day.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Rock Creek

As the weather cools, look for Rock creek to fish well for the entire day. You can be on the water at dawn, with a streamer, but look for the spinner fall to come later. The waning PMD’s and Spruce Moths will start a bit later in the day, but the cloud cover will allow the trout to rise a bit more freely.

The terrestrial fishing will also start later in the day, and will extend later in the day as well. While hoppers are always the first choice, make sure to have your ants and beetles, because those have been moving a lot of fish in the last week. While high heat gets terrestrials more active, it’s not going to get so cold they stop moving. The terrestrial fishing has been the most consistent fishing on Rick Creek.

The biggest change will be in the evening fishing. With the high temps we’ve had, the evening rise has started at dusk. As the weather cools, the the caddis and remaining PED’s will start a lot earlier, allowing the angler to actually fish those hatches.

Trout love the clouds, and will rise much more freely under a darker sky. Classic attractors will start to be very effective on Rock Creek in the next week. The Hippie Stomper, Purple Haze, Royal Wulff and Micro Chubbies are going to be very effective during the cool spell. You can work a little outside the riffles as well, because the fish aren’t being forced there due to the heat.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

August Hatches

Click any photo below to find out more information on each individual hatch. Includes life cycle, best fly patterns, helpful tips and where to find these hatches in your Western Montana fly fishing adventure.

Olive CDC Caddis

How To Use CDC Flies

CDC is used in some of our favorite flies, as pictured above. The Last Chance Cripple, Rastaman Stonefly and Hi-Viz Spinner all utilize CDC, and are amongst our best fish takers. CDC’s unique properties adds an almost irreproducible fish attraction. Yet we hesitate to recommend these flies. If an angler doesn’t know how to use CDC flies, their effectiveness can be ruined before the first cast. This sounds odd, but CDC’s performance can be eliminated with floatant.

CDC stands for Cul De Canard, which freely translates to duck’s bottom. CDC feathers are found surrounding a duck’s (or goose’s) preen gland. The preen gland secretes an oil waterfowl use to waterproof their feathers. CDC feathers evolved to maintain shape when the oil is secreted, which preserves insulative properties without “waterlogging”.

As the photo shows, CDC is fluffy. Like all feathers, CDC has a stem with barbs coming off the stem. What makes CDC unique is the barbs extending from the stem also have barbs, and depending on the size, those barbs have barbs as well. When used in a fly, all those little tendrils trap air bubbles.

Why CDC Works

When Gary LaFontaine researched his books, he didn’t rely on empirical evidence. He donned a scuba tank, and went subsurface to watch the naturals and his flies. In his seminal work, Caddisflies, LaFontaine studied emerging caddis pupa. Caddis pupa fill their exoskeleton with gas bubbles, which floats the pupa to the surface when emerging. The bubbles refract light, making the pupa look like a tiny, glowing ball during emergence. To mimic that characteristic, Gary pioneered the use of Antron. Antron is a trilobal material (Antron fibers are extruded in a triangular shape) working as a prism, refracting light just as the natural pupa refracts light via gas bubbles.

Gary didn’t just see caddis pupa. He also observed when insect wings are flush to the surface (such as spinners, cripples, drowned stoneflies and caddis), air bubbles are trapped under the wings. Light refracts through the trapped air bubbles just as in the caddis pupa, creating the distinctive light pattern. A spent wing, whether a spinner or a cripple, telegraphs to the trout, here’s an insect trapped in the surface film and unable to escape.

When a dry CDC feather contacts water, the microfibers trap air bubbles, refracting light like a natural. The critical point is the feather must be dry. This is where CDC becomes a bit tricky to use. When many anglers “gink” their fly, they use enough floatant to drown any dry, especially in hot weather when gel floatants liquify.

How To Properly Dress a CDC Dry Fly

CDC feathers will matt (absorb enough water to lose their shape), if enough liquid is applied. Despite CDC feather evolution, enough moisture drowns the feather. Using too much gink matts the fibers and you can’t get it out, ruining the fly for the moment. The fly isn’t permanently ruined-washing with soap and water restores the CDC to it’s fuzzy original shape. Water also soak CDC feathers over time, but it evaporates- more on that later.

After the initial floatant is applied, CDC feathers should look exactly the same as they did before floatant application. Fly-Agra and High N Dry’s Liquid Floatant are great for CDC. A quick dip, and then false cast the excess off. CDC feathers don’t benefit from pre-dipping in liquid floatants- the micro fibers retain too much floatant, and won’t hold air bubbles. Liquid floatants must be cast off. Loon Lochsa is a gel-style floatant designed for CDC use, and won’t matt the feathers when applied properly. It has the added benefit of working on standard dries, so while a bit more expensive, Lochsa replaces the gink bottle. One less thing to carry, which is a good thing.

Floatants are a relatively modern invention, and anglers LOVE them! Missoula’s best fly fishing guides carry 3-4 different floatants, each having a specific purpose and usage. Anglers getting into CDC, as well as many others, buy Lochsa and continue to carry Gink. Embarrassingly, a quick survey of this blog writers flotant pocket showed Fly-Agra, Gink, Umpqua’s EZ Dry, Lochsa and two bottles of Frog’s Fanny.

When using CDC flies, you want a desiccant style floatant, like Frog’s Fanny, Shimizaki or High N Dry Powdered Floatant. No matter how well CDC feathers are initially treated, during use CDC absorbs water and soaks down to nothing. This nullifies CDC’s ability to hold air bubbles, which is why we use it. The best way to resuscitate matted CDC feathers are desiccants. Dessicants bring CDC back to life. Prior to desiccants, old school anglers carried amadou or a small chamois. If those are not available, at worst you just blow on the fly till the CDC fluffs back up. Yes, this blog writer has done that. Damn near hyperventilated in the middle of the hatch, when I HAD THE FLY. I hope everyone has that feeling at least once- to be in the right place at the right time with the right fly. It’s indescribable.

That fly was a Last Chance Cripple, a go-to for many of the best fly fishing guides in Missoula, and across the Rocky Mountains. Developed on the Henry’s Fork by the Harrop family, the Last Chance Cripple combines CDC with the classic Quigley cripple shape to take the fussiest trout. Big trout focus on cripples. Cripples often have a wing trapped in the water. The wing traps air bubbles, refracting light. Exactly like the air bubbles trapped in CDC. To this blog writer, that makes CDC worth learning how to use.

It’s a fussy feather. You need to recognize flies with CDC, so it’s treated correctly. CDC is found in many more flies than mentioned here. You’ll end up with multiple floatants to coat and then rejuvenate the feathers. CDC takes more on water maintenance, and maybe a more organized way to carry your flies! Segregation has bad connotations, but it may apply to CDC flies.

Sub-Surface CDC

With the advent of the Tungsten Jig style flies, CDC is being used in new ways. Because the fibers are easily torn, and look good after they’re shortened, CDC feathers are being used to collar many jig nymphs, like the Duracell, the Umpqua PT Jig, the Tungsten Yellow Spot Jig and many others. With only 1-2 wraps, the fibers don’t trap enough air to hinder sinking when first tied on, and once saturated, the CDC works like any soft hackle.

This is where CDC knowledge comes in handy. When a CDC hackled nymph is initially tied on, the fibers hold air bubbles, which is realistic to the trout. The collar adds attraction till saturated, then it only provides motion. The crafty nympher casts his Perdigon 3-4 times, and then uses a desiccant to dry the fibers. It now holds air bubbles again, and returns to being an attractor and advantage. Make sure to use the wand on the desiccant cap to dust the CDC hackle only. (blatant sales pitch for Frog’s Fanny and Dry Dust). Applying floatant to the nymph body inhibits sink rate.

Do anglers do this all the time? No, not really. Most of the time, it’s not necessary. But there are days when you need every advantage you can find just to get a trout to open its mouth. That’s when knowing about CDC wet fly hackle can be utilized to your advantage. It’s like all knowledge- it doesn’t have to be used all the time, but good to have. Knowledge is power- it’s why we write these blogs!

Direct Hype for Frog’s Fanny

This blog writer, and some of Missoula’s fly fishing guides, favor Frog’s Fanny as their desiccant. Too many fish have been hooked on the first cast after applying Frog’s Fanny to be ignored, both dry and nymph. It brings feathers, especially CDC, back to life after saturation, and adds a little sparkle. It’s no knock on the other desiccants- they do exactly as advertised and remove the moisture. Frog’s Fanny seems to have a little bit extra going for it. It’s an opinion, but it’s backed up by lots of empirical evidence … and no hard facts! Take it for what it’s worth.

Once you recognize and know how to use CDC on the water, it becomes a staple in your fly box. CDC’s fish attraction far outweighs the fussiness of the feather. It’s why the Harrop’s use it on the Henry’s Fork, one of the world’s most demanding rivers. It moves fish- easy ones and difficult ones. Once you understand the care and feeding of CDC, you’ll wonder why it took so long to start using it.

Frank Scott

Minimizing the Guide Footprint

The fly fishing industry in Missoula felt the razor sharpness of a double edged sword in 2021. Our outfitting has never been so busy! That’s great for us. Our outfitting has never been so busy!

We’ve never seen the rivers absorb so much usage. From every aspect, including float fishing, wade fishing and recreational floats, we saw unprecedented river use in Missoula. Let’s not kid ourselves, these aren’t the busy Bighorn or Madison angling numbers. While this may not be considered busy compared to other states and fisheries, it’s what we call Montana busy, slower than most places but busy compared to what we’re accustomed to. Missoula has never really been on the map as a destination- we don’t know why and we don’t complain. Missoula’s experienced guides were concerned about the higher traffic and substandard etiquette shown by novice guides and new boat owners. While guides make up less than 15% of the boats on many local rivers at any given time, pressure is a big topic of conversation with many local guides and outfitters. How to minimize the guide footprint, maximize client experience and do right by the rivers that provide so much more than employment.

As a shop, led by owner and outfitter Taylor Scott, the Missoulian Angler has decided to respond to the new normal. Whether others decide to follow this lead is beyond our purview- we can only do what we feel is correct for the resource, and best for our clients while making sure the oldest fly shop in Missoula keeps its doors open.

The Missoulian Angler has been outfitting for 35 years. We know what makes an exceptional guide and superior experience on the water. We understand every guide has to start somewhere, and use new guides every year. With our background, we’ve built and continue building an amazing core of Missoula MVP’s- guides who know our local rivers like the back of their hands, are comfortable with experts as well as newbies and capable of creating the best river experience for every client.

With that core in mind, with the resource in mind, we have decided to limit our outfitting to 6 boats a day, with no more than 3 boats on any given stretch of Missoula’s rivers. Is this in granite? No. There are always exceptions to the rule. Families needing more than 6 boats, or a corporate client providing Missoula’s best guiding experience for their employees, will be taken care of as we always have. Accommodations will go both ways. If you need more than 3 boats on a single stretch of river, we might choose a section of river better suited to handling more boats, with the fishing being the secondary factor. Again, this only applies to more than 3 boat groups on a stretch.

The Missoulian Angler will absorb a financial hit for this stance. That’s a short-term ramification. We feel 6 boats a day provides a good enough income level, balanced by the cushion to the resource. In the long term, it’s the rivers that bring anglers to Missoula. As outfitters, if we don’t notice and respond to situations or pressure, the resource will deteriorate at more rapid rate. At heart, every angler is a conservationist. The exceptional local and national support for our local West Slope Chapter and MT Trout Unlimited, The Clark Fork Coalition and the Watershed Education Network here in Missoula is extremely impressive, while groups proliferate along the Blackfoot River, Rock Creek and the Bitterroot River as well. The basis of each of these groups is to PASS ON THE RIVER IN AS GOOD OR BETTER SHAPE THAN WE FOUND IT.

The lead photo is Taylor’s great grandfather Frank Scott, fishing the Blackfoot River. At the time this photo was taken, he’s already a second generation Missoulian who introduced his son and grandson who eventually passed along to Taylor the joys of fly fishing, who in turn plans to pass this joy to his two young children. While time changes a river’s characteristics, it shouldn’t change the angling. Yes, we know it does, but as Dylan Thomas wrote,

Do not go gentle into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

This is Taylor Scott’s way of raging against the dying of the light. Now a 5th generation Missoulian angler, Taylor is saying we have the ability to change the trajectory for future generations to come. It has a cost, and the Missoulian Angler will pay that cost. We take this stand so others see conservation can be congruent with angling. It simply takes everyone taking a step back, reviewing their footprint, and modifying it to be just a little less. It’s how every journey starts, with someone making the first steps.

We’re not doing this to brag about our guides. We judge no one for the stance they take. This is the stance we’ve taken. We’re looking at this as a business, looking as local anglers, looking at the resource and making a decision based on our definition of a responsible business. We hope others see this and think it’s a good idea. It’s not necessary, but we sure hope it does. It’s our response to the summer of 2021. We pay attention to the resource, we pay attention to the clients, we pay attention to the situation. If the situation changes, we will as well. And when we make a change, we’ll let you know. What the change is, why we made the change and how it will affect our valued customers close and far from Missoula. Feel free to tell us what you think.

We could brag that capping our boats at 6 a day provides a superior experience for every Missoulian Angler client. Because it will. We could be passing judgement on other outfitters who don’t follow our view of how things should be. We’re not.

We’re not doing this to brag about our guides. We’re not judging anyone for the stance they take. This is the stance we’ve taken.

Montana Fly Fishing

Best Flies For Cutthroat Trout

Missoula Fly fishing guides will tell you if you catch a Brown Trout, you know what’s hatching. If you catch a Rainbow Trout, you know what’s hatching. But if you catch a Cutthroat Trout, well, you’ve just caught a Cutthroat! Lets take a look at some of the best flies for Cutthroat and what makes them so effective.

Dry Fly Patterns For Cutthroat

It’s no secret that Cutthroat Trout are free rising fish. Think of them as the 13 year old girls of the stream. They do like their bling when it comes to flies! Show them a bit of sparkle, give a bit of shine, and that usually brings the Cutties right to the top. If you’re prospecting for Cutthroat, any fly with a synthetic, sparkly body will often move them to the surface. We use a lot of Royal coloration style flies like the Royal Wulff, and love the Royal Hippie Stomper for luring the less than wiley Cutthroat to the surface.

That being said, the Cutthroat trout, when intent on a hatch, can be as selective as any trout on the planet. Find a blanket PMD hatch, and they will be just as focused on the Left Wing Crippled Emergent Nymph With Trailing Shuck, in the film, as any other trout. We’ve been there and done that at Kelly Creek in Idaho and other Cutthroat hot spots. Trout are trout, and during a hatch Cutthroat are just as fussy as any fish on the river, especially the big ones.

Something to remember when focusing on Cutthroat Trout. Fish your cast out to the bitter end, and by that we mean swinging the fly in a skitter below you. If we ever found ourselves stranded on a river with no food, fishing for sustenance, this is a very effective method of taking smaller Cutties. Oh, sure, once in a while a big one will surprise you, take the dry on the swing and completely snap you off on the tight line drag. But that swing at the end will bring the little guys up like magic. It’s an odd feeling, watching your dry swing across the surface, but the fish eat it up. The best fly for this is the Elk Hair Caddis. It’s a fly designed to skitter anyway, so the action is always there.

Nymph Patterns For Cutthroat

When it comes to nymphing for Cutthroat, it’s pretty much the same as for any other trout. Get your fly deep, keep it in the zone on a dead drift, and look for movement in your point fly or indicator. Again, we tend to favor a brighter fly, like the Fire Starter or the Tung Flash Prince. Both these flies are very visible sub-surface, and will catch the trout’s attention from a distance.

The swing on the nymph is less effective than the swing on the dry fly, but it’s still effective. But not for the same reason. Back in 1941, James Leisenring wrote a book called The Art Of Tying The Wet Fly, which became a very important work in angling lit for a long time. In the last chapter, he describes, the “Leisenring Lift”, a technique he used when sight fishing to nymphing trout. Spot a trout, dead drift your fly to the fish, and just as the fly is about to go past, gently lift the rod to catch the fish’s attention with a fly coming to the surface. Gary LaFontaine, in his studies underwater with scuba tanks, corroborated this and went one step further. He said it almost appeared instinctive. If a fly is pulled to the surface directly in front of a trout, coming from below the trout’s vision into its sight, it eats. This applies to all trout, not just Cutthroat. A swinging nymph, if by chance or planning, rises in front of a trout, it will eat. We like to think that’s some solace as your indicator goes by making a V-wake on the water! Not much, but some. Leisenring invented this technique for sight fishing to trout deeper in the water column, and it’s tremendously effective. A nymph at the end of a drift will simulate this action, but then it’s all about luck, really, as to whether the fly lifts up in front of a fish. Still an effective technique to be aware of.

Streamer Patterns For Cutthroat

Many anglers don’t use streamers for Cutthroat, in the mistaken belief that they don’t take them. This isn’t true. While Cutthroats certainly aren’t Brown Trout in their search for big meals, they will definitely take a streamer, especially the bigger fish in the river. It has been our experience however, that a smaller fly is much more effective than a big old Mongrel Meat or BeastMaster. Run a smaller Sculpzilla, or a Kreelex (back to bling!) and you’ll find yourself taking Cutties on a streamer. Cutthroat are less bold when it comes to streamer fishing. You’re not often going to find the rod shaking take of a big Rainbow Trout- Cutthroat are going to sidle out and nip at the fly in a less aggressive manner. If you’re craving a gut-punch take and the ripping head shake, you might ply your trade where the Browns, Brookies and Rainbows take up residence. But if you’re on Cutty water, and find a great streamer spot, don’t be afraid to tie one on and go for it. Scale down, keep the fly in the zone as long as possible, and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty sizable fish when you didn’t expect them.

Final Thoughts

The Cutthroat is a dry fisher’s dream. Free rising and relatively careless, they will often keep you active all day on the surface. But you’ll need to find them first, before you can get to that type of action. Head upstream on most tributaries, and you’ll start to see more and more Cutties. Bring your bling, bring that crazy attractor you tied late night in January when you were bored, and use them. You might not know what’s hatching when a Cutthroat sips in your dry, but at that point, does it really matter?!

Additional Cutthroat Fly Patterns

Looking for more Cutthroat Flies? Check out our Attractor Flies by clicking here.

Fish Rising On Clark Fork River

5 Best Hatches on the Clark Fork

The Clark Fork River covers lots of miles in western Montana, with many hatches along its length. The upper stretch is smaller and bit faster, making it prime water for stoneflies and caddis. The middle and lower stretches, especially below the Bitterroot River, are slower and broader, perfect for blanket mayfly hatches, stoneflies and caddis. It’s difficult to nail down the 5 best Clark Fork River Hatches, but we’ve done it! They’re listed in our preference.

Pale Morning Duns

Pale Morning Dun Hatch

This is the quintessential western mayfly hatch, and the Clark Fork River is covered with PMD’s from the 3rd week of June through the 3rd week of July and sometimes later. PMD’s hatch between noon and 3:00, depending on weather, and consistently provide about 2 hours of steady, excellent technical dry fly fishing. Be prepared, because when PMD’s come off, they come off in sheets. The fish will definitely focus on very specific stages of the hatch, and can be insanely fussy. Which is part of the fun!

The Clark Fork trout, especially in the lower sections, pod up to take these flies. Characteristic of the Clark Fork, the pods tend to hold fish of relatively the same size. If you come across a pod of fish, and the first nose up is about 2” across, slow down! Most of the fish in that pod are going to be big, and you need to be very stealthy on approach. If the rises are a bit smaller, most of the fish in that pod will be smaller as well. Don’t know why, but know it’s so. You can do some serious head hunting on the Lower Clark Fork River.

The PMD’s love the soft insides of bends in the river. It’s easy to miss these trout as you go by, as the rises in the diamond chop have to be spotted carefully. It’s well worth checking out the inside seam at every bend in the river for rising fish. They also hatch in the long glides below riffles, and along the edges in the rock gardens. The Clark Fork River is fertile and large in the middle and lower sections, and like every river, has its own secrets.

The PMD’s can test the width of your fly box. To effectively meet this hatch on the Clark Fork River, you’ll need cripples, emergers, duns, unweighted nymphs and klinkhamer style flies, like the PMD Sprout. Special mention needs to be made of the Rusty Spinner. All adult PMD’s (as well as adult Pale Evening Duns) return to the river as Rusty Spinners. Our favorite fly for this stage is the Hi Viz Rusty Spinner, so you can see this low riding fly. The spinners can fall at any time, though are most often seen at dawn and dusk. Be ready for this stage, as the fish will move for spinners whenever they’re on the water.  

Golden Stones

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Clark Fork River is a sneaky good stonefly river, especially the middle and lower sections. The upper Clark Fork, with its more rapid descent and faster water is an obvious choice for stoneflies, but the slower middle and lower sections don’t look very stonefly-y. The Golden Stones will show you how good the Clark Fork is for stoneflies!

Throughout the middle and lower Clark Fork are rock gardens. That’s the second time we’ve said this, and it’s time for a definition. A rock garden is found next to the shore, in water 1.5 to 4 feet deep. Cinder block size rocks sit next to larger rocks, providing excellent cover for trout and habitat for Goldens. The Clark Fork is so big and fast that the water looks quite still over these sizable rocks. Wade the edges for a while and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. A wading angler is tempted to go waist deep and cast to the likely water in the middle. Mistake! 75% of all fish are found within 15 feet of the bank, and the Clark Fork is no exception. Work the edges, over these rock gardens, and watch your fish count rise on Missoula’s largest river.

The Goldens hatch heavily from late June through July, and bring strikes all across the river. Our favorite flies include the Rastaman Golden and PK Golden. If the surface action slows down, drop a Pat’s Rubberlegs in Tan/Brown off a long dropper. On the lower Clark Fork, a 7-foot dropper is often exactly what’s needed during this hatch. Interesting casting, but the catching will make it worth it. If you’re an early bird, the Clark Fork has some excellent dawn fishing with a Golden, and then expect to nymph or streamer till the day heats up and they begin to fly in earnest. Keep in mind the Golden Stone is not a single species, but a variety of species all imitated by the same flies. The Golden hatch can be anywhere from a size 6 to a 12. Be ready for size variations throughout the day.


Mahogany Dun Hatch

This big brown mayfly is a staple for the Clark Fork River hatches from the first Fall rains in September through the last frigid days of October. Mahoganies hatch in the heat of the day, usually from 1-3:00, and once established, hatch in sun or clouds. The Mahoganies can be a blizzard hatch on the Clark Fork, and again the width of your fly box may be stretched when the Mahogany is out in numbers.

Mahoganies are most active below riffles. Look for fish rising in slower water below riffles, and if the glide is short enough, in the tail out as well. As a slow water bug, additional preparations may be needed to effectively fish the Mahogany hatch. Add some fine tippet to your leader, 4.5X or 5X, and make sure to leave enough distance between you and the fish. The late season water is low and clear, and nowhere is the term fine and far off more apt than the Clark Fork River. The fish pod up just as they do for the PMD, and a bad cast can move a lot of fish, negatively! You can have an epic day with Mahoganies on the Clark Fork. 

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

The Salmon Fly is really a thing to see, this giant insect flopping back on the water as it lays its eggs for the next generation! Coming in at 54mm long, the Salmon Fly is a dry fly you can see on the water, and the fish rarely miss it as well. When fishing the Salmon Fly on the Clark Fork River, don’t expect the numbers found on the Blackfoot River or Rock Creek.

Surprisingly, this is a distinct advantage when fishing the Salmon Fly. If you see one, tie one on and start prospecting. The fish aren’t gorged on this fly, and take them opportunistically. The lack of crazy numbers means the fish are looking for them all the time, a real advantage to the angler. If you’re looking for a photo op of Salmon Flies crawling everywhere, the Clark Fork isn’t your first bet. But if steady fishing with giant dry flies sounds appealing, the Clark Fork is a good answer!

Big Salmon flies, like the Super Gee or El Camino Grillo are good flies on the Clark Fork. They also do double duty if you need to drop a dark Pat’s RubberLegs off the back. Those big foamies do a great job as an indicator as well. The Salmon Flies start hatching mid to late June, and post run-off the Clark Fork can be a very big river at this time of year. Eyes on the river whether rowing or wading.


Hopper Hatch

The Clark Fork can offer up some spectacular hopper fishing from mid-August right through mid-October. While we don’t like to mention it out loud, it’s due to the wind. There, we whispered it! Everyone who rows in Missoula has a horror story of the wind blowing up the Clark Fork River so hard in the summer that the boat can’t be controlled. It’s not normal, but it can happen. And when it does, it’s hopper time!

Hoppers are ungainly flyers at best, and the middle and lower sections of the Clark Fork River are WIDE! When hoppers fly over the middle of the river, with a little breeze activity, you’ve got a recipe for hoppers on the water. You don’t often hear us say this, but don’t be afraid to shorten up your leader, and go with 2-3X tippet. Big flies in the breeze can create interesting situations for the rower and others close to the action, so a short, stout leader can be very useful on the Clark Fork.

Don’t be afraid to let the hopper land with a splat to alert the fish. Also, if you’re getting hits just as you start your back cast, that’s a sign the fish are looking for a hopper with a little movement. Not a 3-foot strip, but enough jiggle to let the trout know it’s struggling. Switch to Pav’s Yellowstone Hopper or any rubber-legged hopper to accentuate the struggle on the surface. Other strong Clark Fork hoppers include the Henneberry Hopper and Morrish Hopper. Later in the season, the less traditional colors really start to work on the Clark Fork.

Honorable Mention

Clark Fork River hatches honorable mentions include the Tan Caddis. There are nights the Tan Caddis are so thick you can barely breathe, but the fish don’t seem to care. The occasional rise is more often to a PED than a Tan Caddis. WHERE DO YOU THINK THE ADULTS COME FROM? The Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa is one of the most effective flies on the Clark Fork from dawn to dusk. We say it all the time- we don’t sell enough of these flies! Go deep with a Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa on the Clark Fork River and your fish count will quickly rise.

Additional Resources For Clark Fork River Hatches

5 Best Hatches on the Bitterroot

The Bitterroot River runs south to north through the Bitterroot valley, and is a very wader friendly river. Fishes big, wades small, and the Bitterroot River hatches are the most diverse in the Missoula area. Here is a list of some of our favorite hatches on the Bitterroot.


Trico Spinner Fly Fishing

From a hatch matcher’s standpoint, the Trico hatch is the most frustrating, tricky, amazing and challenging of the Bitterroot River Hatches. Coming in at an 18 or 20, the small size starts the trico challenge. Add that the trico is the only local mayfly with distinctive male and female coloration, and toss on the spinner fall that occurs during the hatch, and you have a serious puzzle for the angler to solve.

The Tricos are a blanket hatch, coming off in huge numbers starting mornings in mid-August and continuing through mid-October, depending on weather. The spinner clouds that form above the river prior to the hatch are identifiable by the figure 8 pattern they fly in. The cloud will form about 15 feet above the water, and slowly drop to the surface. The spinners are also identifiable as male and female, so once they fall and the hatch starts, you have male and female spinners on the water, as well as male and female adults, cripples and emergers. The Trico hatch can really stretch the width of an anglers fly box!

Contrary to most mayfly hatches, the tricos hatch best in full sun, which makes the trout a bit skittish when up feeding on this hatch. Which the trout kind of have to do, as the Trico is the only reliable source of food at this time. The fish will line up in the slow glides and pools and take these insects for as long as they are present on the water. While the Tricos will appear above Bell Crossing, the best Missoula Trico fishing is found in the wider, slower sections of the lower Bitterroot River.

Make sure you’re ready for this hatch when you hit the water. Ron’s Trico Spinner has been our top producer for this hatch for years, but you’ll need more flies than that! A Female Comparadun or Trico Sprout will also turn heads when the hatch is on. The Sunken Spinner is a great fly when the fish are focused just under the surface, dropped off a Parachute Trico or even a smaller Royal Wulff- also a sneaky good fly when the tricos are on.

Make sure you’re ready with a well-balanced leader tapered down to 5 or 5.5X. Your casting needs to be somewhat long and quite accurate. The tricos are so small, and there are so many on the water. The trout don’t move very far to the left or right to take your fly. It needs to be in the feeding lane, floating correctly, and matching the phase of insect that particular fish is feeding on. Spinner, adult, cripple or emerger in both male and female. It can be the most frustrating hatch to work when you’re not on, but when you find the fly and start getting the drift, the satisfaction of having solved the riddle is one of the best feelings you can have when heading out to match wits with the wily trout!


Bitterroot Skwala Hatch
Bitterroot Skwala

The Bitterroot River is known across Montana and the west as having the best skwala stonefly hatch in the area. This early spring stonefly begins hatching in the 2nd or 3rd  week of March and will continue through run-off. The females are olive and run from size 8 early in the hatch to a size 12 near the end. The males are dark and smaller, and rarely find their way to the water. As with all stoneflies, the Skwalas emerge by crawling out along the sides of the river, so the trout will follow the nymphs to the shore. Use a Double Bead Peacock Stone or an Pats RubberLegs to match the nymphs early in the hatch.

The Skwalas will come off along the entire length of the Bitterroot River, as well as the East Fork and West Fork of the Bitterroot. As the first hatch of the year, there’s a lot of pent up fly fishing in Missoula, and the Bitterroot can see its fair share of anglers at this time. Pick your days to fish the Skwalas! They will hatch in the worst conditions- snow, rain, clouds and cold weather. Conditions like that tend to turn away the faint of heart. Dress warmly and go knock ‘em silly!

If you’re running a dropper like a Tungsten Hare’s Ear Jig for the Western March Brown nymph, use an Morning Wood Skwala or Olive Water Walker. These big foamies will float your nymph and work well early in the season. As the hatch progresses, and the fish get wise, switch up to the Little Olive Stone or Rogue Stone Skwala. They float lower in the water, and look more realistic to the fish.

Skwalas will hatch on gray days, and with their dark coloration can be very difficult to see on the water. You must look carefully for them as they go floating by. The random rise will also alert you to their presence on the river. Work the good looking water, and be ready for some slow times, especially in the colder morning. The crafty Skwala angler will often wait for the afternoon to start fishing, allowing the temperatures to warm and get the adults flying. It’s a great way to start the season- big bugs and lots of action!

Western March Browns

March Brown Hatch Montana

The Western March Browns will start hatching in the last week of March, and will go through run-off. The WMB is well imitated by the Purple Haze, Parachute Adams or the Parachute Hare’s Ear. While the WMB’s come off consistently during the Spring, they are rarely a blanket hatch. Unlike the Trico, it doesn’t take a lot of flies to effectively fish the WMB’s. Sure, a cripple or emerger is useful, but certainly not required.

The WMB’s really like clouds, and that can be a bit problematic early in the hatch. It takes a bit of warmer weather to get the flies moving at the beginning, and clouds aren’t always the best at allowing warmth. But once the WMB’s get established by the first week in April, they consistently come off in the afternoons along the length of the Bitterroot River. They’re found in size 12-14, but concentrate mostly on the size 14. When you go subsurface with a WMB nymph, have a few Umpqua Ptail Jig or PT Hot Spots to get deep quickly and stay in the zone. This is one of the favorite bitterroot hatches for local and traveling anglers.

Golden Stones

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Golden Stones could just have easily been the third hatch on this list of best Bitterroot river hatches. They are a very prolific hatch on the Bitterroot River, including the East Fork and West Fork. Unlike the Skwala, which is a single species, the Golden Stone hatch is comprised of multiple species that range in size from 6- 12, with the most falling in the 8-10 zone. Expand that slightly, and you can include the Yellow Sallies, which are smaller Golden Stones in size 14-16. In the last week of June through July, the Goldens offer a smorgasbord of insects for the trout to gorge on.

The upper stretches of the Bitterroot are faster and choppier, so a high floating Golden like a Plan B Golden or an El Camino Golden are strong producers. In the lower sections, where the water may be a little calmer, the PK Golden or Rastaman Golden will perform very well. Make sure to have some Tan/Brown Pats RubberLegs with you when the surface action isn’t where you want it to be. Be ready for bigger water during the Golden hatch, especially at the start of the hatch, and work the edges of the river. As the water drops during July, the fish will move from shore to their familiar summer feeding stations.


Mahogany Dun Hatch

The majestic Mahogany is found on the Bitterroot River from the first September rains through the first real snowfall. They hatch in the heat of the day, which on some October afternoons can be 45 degrees! They’re a sizable insect, about a 12-14, and are easily seen on the water. The Mahoganies aren’t a blanket hatch, and if you get a reasonable imitation over a fish, they will usually take.

We like the Tilt Wing Mahogany at this time of year, as well as the Pheasant Tail Dry. If you want to get fancy, a Hi Viz Rusty Spinner in a 14 can be money, as can a Mahogany Sprout. When you go subsurface, an Solitude Pheasant Tail Jig or Quill Perdigon Jig will be very effective during this hatch. While it hatches along the length of the river, the best hatches are found below Bell Crossing.

Honorable Mention For Bitterroot River Hatches

Honorable mention on the best Bitterroot River hatches goes to the Hecuba hatch. While not a prolific hatch by any stretch of the imagination, the Bitterroot trout love this late summer/fall hatch and will take them whenever they’re on the water. If you find yourself on the water in Fall with little happening, tie on a Brindle Chute in a size 12 and start prospecting. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!

Additional Resources For Bitterroot River Hatches